A third Tour de France would make Tadej Pogacar one of cycling’s true greats | Tour de France

IIt is rare for a cyclist to win the Tour de France twice, which is why it marks the moment when a rider truly establishes himself as one of the biggest names in the big race. A third victory on the Tour, however, is still different: only the greatest have achieved the feat. This is why the next four weeks are so important for Tadej Pogacar.

Win this third Round and “Pog” will be elevated to a selected pantheon. The five-time winners – Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Induráin – are well known, while disgraced former seven-time winner Lance Armstrong is simply notorious. But Louison Bobet (1953-55), Greg LeMond (1986, 1989, 1990) and four-time winner Chris Froome (2013, 2015-17) form the tiny “gang of three”.

This magic third Big loop seems to be well within reach for the 23-year-old Slovenian given how he dominated his home Tour a few days ago, claiming two stage wins and the overall victory, as well as designing two more triumphs stage for his main mountain lieutenant Rafal Majka. With only five stages to go, there weren’t many crumbs for the other teams to pick up.

The success took Pogacar’s win tally this season to 10 and reflected the dominance that marked his progress everywhere he raced in 2022. The UAE Tour, the Tirreno-Adriatico stage race and the Classic of a Strade Bianche days all fell to him in the spring like saplings in front of a well-oiled chainsaw and he came within an ace of adding two of the greatest monuments, Milan-Sanremo and the Tour of Flanders.

The picture all of this paints is of a young man who has rapidly matured and gained confidence since his first Tour victory in the Covid-delayed race of September 2020, a quirk in the calendar that means that if he in fact three in July, he would be the fastest hat-trick on the Tour. Pogacar is not content to win at will; he wins in different ways, in different circles.

Admittedly, the opposition at the Tour of Slovenia was well below the Tour de France standard, but the other stage races that ran concurrently clearly show how limited the challenge he is likely to face is. The Critérium du Dauphiné was dominated by the Jumbo-Visma team, which took three stages and the first two places overall with Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingaard, while Geraint Thomas eventually found the form to win the Tour de Suisse.

Geraint Thomas triumphed at the Tour de Suisse in June but the 36-year-old Welshman won’t have it easy in a straight fight with Pogacar. Photograph: Gian Ehrenzeller/AP

In a straight July contest with wonderkid Pogacar, however, few would bet on the 36-year-old Welshman. But with Egan Bernal recovering from a serious accident, the Ineos team finds itself for once out of options. In France, for those hoping that Pogacar will at least be pushed hard to a third Tour victory, the runes were just as hard to read. The potential opposition should have been at the Criterium du Dauphiné pushing Roglic and Vingaard all the way, but that never happened.

Vingaard’s role is yet to be defined – will the 2021 finalist be Roglic’s winger or a free agent cleared to supplant his frontman if form permits? However, he is sure to enjoy center stage from Friday when the Tour starts in Copenhagen in what is likely to be the most spectacular overseas Grand Depart since the 2014 race from Yorkshire. (On that note, the Danes hope the legacy of their early tour will outlast that of God’s Own County, where the bubble burst after about five years.)

The sight of Vingegaard and Roglic in tandem underlines that the only way to take on a talent like Pogacar is collectively, with each man attacking separately to try and wear down the champion. Over the years, even when Plan A has gone awry, Jumbo-Visma have shown a remarkable ability to use their team’s strength and – assuming a recent knee injury clears up – they enjoy the services of the strongest all-rounder. in the world, Belgian cyclo-cross ace Wout van Aert, winner last year of an astonishing triptych of mountain, time trial and sprint stages.

The scenario Pogacar will dread most is when fellow Slovenian Roglic or ghost-like mountaineer Vingaard disappears down the road with Van Aert, forcing the UAE squad to exhaust themselves chasing and expose to a counterattack. Much of the interest over the next few weeks may hinge on Jumbo-Visma’s ability to make such a thing happen.

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The route will offer some hope. Day two could mean the race splits into pieces if it gets windy on the Great Belt bridges. Day five sends riders onto the notorious cobblestones used in the Paris-Roubaix One-Day Classic.

While set-piece climbs on massive cols such as the Galibier in the Alps will favor the structured race that will suit Pogacar, there are enough hilly stages for Van Aert to break down the race. In that he could find a willing ally in fellow cyclo-cross racer Mathieu van der Poel, who sometimes tore up the Giro d’Italia in May, apparently just for the sheer fun of it.

The likeliest scenario for the next few weeks is a two-way battle between the most outrageous individual talent cycling has seen since young Hinault burst onto the scene in 1978 and the strongest team the sport has ever seen. has known since the all-conquering TI-Raleigh team in the early 1980s. There will be surprises – the Tour always produces some – but the biggest shock will be if an individual emerges who can face “Pog” one-on-one and him give a real run for his money.

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